Furious residents have labelled Barnet Council “fraudsters” for removing scores of objections to a new Islamic centre and mosque in the heart of one of London’s largest Jewish communities.
The iconic Golders Green Hippodrome, home to the BBC concert orchestra until 2004, was bought in July for £5.25m by the Centre for Islamic Enlightening which serves the Shia community in London. Its stated aim, according to accounts filed on the Charity Commission website, is “to promote the advancement of the Islamic religion”.
The Grade-II listed building has also been used as an evangelical Christian church for the past decade and the planning application, submitted last month, seeks to change the use from ‘church’ to ‘place of worship’ and extend the opening hours each evening until 12:30am. More than 200 individual objections have been received by Barnet Council during the consultation period, as well as a petition focusing on congestion, pollution and parking problems which has amassed 5,000 signatures.
Yet despite huge opposition to the plans, at the time of publication Shy Society counted just 20 public comments available to view on Barnet Council’s planning website – with claims that objections have been deleted or removed from public view. Local newspaper the Jewish Chronicle has run numerous articles denouncing what they call “bigotry” and “Islamophobia” – a viewpoint supported by prominent Jewish leaders – however many of the local community feel the change of use will have a negative impact on the surrounding area and have slammed the council for removing objections.
Alex Coltman, of Cedar Lawn Avenue, wrote on Barnet Council’s planning portal on Friday: “I am posting my comment again from yesterday, which was removed for some inexplicable reason – censorship?
“It is almost pointless to object to this proposal as any criticism is bound to be seen as Islamophobic or racist – the worst of crimes these days – and Barnet Council will no doubt approve it for fear of the same. Is this a proposal to change the use to a mosque, a building that was once open to all, that hosted Friday Night is Music Night? And in a well-known Jewish area? Where did the funding come from to purchase this building? Extending the opening hours from morning to after midnight will cause aggravation to the local community in terms of noise and traffic (from people coming from outside Golders Green). The charity bought this building knowing full well the conditions of its use – ‘to hold concerts, conferences, drama and dance festivals’ – so should NOT be allowed to change it afterwards.”
Another resident, calling herself Ms L E, commented: “I am resubmitting my post from last night, which was predictably deleted first thing this morning. It is not racist to highlight illegal activity that intentionally contravenes Barnet Council regulations, and to demand that Barnet Council intervene accordingly. Should the Council choose not to take immediate action – and to once again intentionally delete this concern from public view – it has a duty to publish a formal and public explanation of its actions by return.”
Resident of Clifford Gardens, Petula Heyes, said: “I have already posted an objection along with 200 other people! Leave the objections alone you fraudsters.”
And Ms R Lilley, of Hermitage Court, added: “Barnet Council should make all legitimate comments available to be seen. 379 people consulted. 17 comments received. According to the newspapers hundreds of comments have been received. It is anti-democratic to lead people to believe only 17 have been received.”
In a comment to the Guardian newspaper, a spokesperson from Barnet Council admitted that it had removed all but the most recent comments saying it has “a responsibility to ensure that people are not using council platforms to air views that are inappropriate.”
Angry residents have also called into question the legitimacy of the entire planning process, with accusations that the facility is already being publicised as a ‘mosque in London’ on the group’s Facebook page and that religious events are taking place regularly.
Dr Anne Summers, of West Heath Drive, said: “Those attending the newly formed Islamic Centre have already proved themselves to be inconsiderate neighbours, blocking private driveways and in one case, apparently, actually occupying one. The request to disturb the neighbourhood at an even later hour is evidence of further ‘unneighbourliness’. If the Centre wishes to become a place of worship which can ‘enrich the community’ it will have to do better than this.”
Manor Hall Avenue resident Emil Baruch said: “Placing such an institution in the heart of Golders Green is a disservice to its thousands of community members living there. I myself came from Iran and know of the extremism emanating from this sect of Shia Islam. We plead to the council to refuse any change of use for these premises.”
And Solomon Moshi, of Dorchester Gardens, added: “This is a disgrace. 3,000 to 6,000 attendees in an area with no parking. Bringing noise, parking problems to a suburban area. I strongly oppose this folly which will blight the area and cause mass disruption in Golders Green and Hampstead Garden Suburb.”
Charity spokesperson Ahmed Al-Kazemi said they were excited to be in an area as diverse as Golders Green and that they were planning an open day in December to welcome their neighbours.
The public consultation closes on Thursday (26th October). To view or comment on the plans visit this page.
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